I often notice a disturbing trend among fans when it comes female characters and male characters. I mean when you think about it there are a lot of disturbing trends, really, but the thing that bothers me in particular is when fans hate on a female character for something they love about a male character. And sometimes fans seem to just ignore a flaw that a male character has, but then they crucify a female character for having that same flaw. It’s incredibly aggravating to me to watch this constantly play out again and again. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a look at some examples.
I first began to realize this when I was thinking about Superman. I love that in Man of Steel Lois Lane quickly figures out who Superman actually is instead of having the tired story of her working alongside Clark and never noticing anything. On top of this, poor Clark has the worst disguise ever: glasses. I mean there are supposedly deeper canonical reasons as to why people don’t realize Clark is Superman, but it’s hard to suspend disbelief about the glasses. And Lois, as both a love interest and co-worker of Clark’s, gets the brunt of the hate when it comes to not realizing Clark is Superman. There are always a ton of jokes about how “stupid” Lois is to the point that even in the Lois and Clark TV show, the writers had one supervillain from the future talk about how she goes down in history as one of the stupidest women of all time.
But noticeably fewer people give Lex Luthor a hard time about the same thing and arguably Lex is even worse when it comes to this particular issue. In the comics, animated movies, and TV shows, Lex knows Clark pretty well. To what degree often changes—sometimes they start out as best friends and sometimes Lex knows Clark only professionally because of his work at the Daily Planet. No matter the case, Lex usually knows Clark pretty well, if not extremely well. On top of all this, Lex is supposed to be a genius. He is a completely normal human, but he is so intelligent that his intellect alone is what is supposed to make him a match for Superman (that and all his wealth and resources). So a genius-level businessman with all kinds of money and power at his disposal can’t figure out that Clark Kent is Superman? But yet all the jokes about people being stupid for not knowing who Superman is eventually filter back to Lois, and Lex is rarely, if ever, put down for the same thing.
In Teen Wolf, this same issue of fans judging women harder than men comes up a lot, especially in regards to Kate Argent and Peter Hale. Now don’t get me wrong, I think that both Kate Argent and Peter Hale can be interesting villains (though Teen Wolf isn’t always the best when it comes to writing their characters), but they are both awful people. Yet Kate gets a lot more hate from fans than Peter does. There is some reasoning for this, however, at least much more than in some other fandoms. For one, while Season 1 Kate is shown as caring for her family, especially Allison, she is still the cold-blooded murderer who raped Derek and burned his whole family alive. Season 1 Peter, by comparison, is naturally given more sympathy. He was burned alive, watched his whole family die, then was trapped in a coma for years after. So of course we sympathize with his need for revenge and we demonize Kate. That doesn’t make Peter a purely good person though. He still bites Scott and Lydia without their consent, tries to force Scott to help him kill people, and tries to make Scott murder his friends. On top of this, for a guy who supposedly cares about what happened to his family, he lies to and manipulates Derek, and of course, kills Laura, one of his last surviving relatives, to become the Alpha.
Kate is killed at the end of Season 1, and Peter is as well, but he returns in Season 2, and we see a lot of him in Season 3. Peter’s return is marked with him mind-raping Lydia all through Season 2. In Season 3, Peter is still recovering from being dead, so he doesn’t do as much other than be a manipulative bastard. Kate returns at the end of Season 3B, and, along with Peter, becomes one of the main villains in Season 4. Both Peter and Kate are heartless murderers and sexual predators. So why does everyone seem to hate Kate so much more than Peter? Part of it may be the initial sympathy for Peter from Season 1, but in my opinion, Peter’s character over several seasons has transformed from a more sympathetic person to simply a power-hungry one. I don’t like Kate, but it baffles me that she is hated more than Peter. Peter gets tags on Tumblr and AO3 like Sassy Uncle Peter, and if you search for “Good Peter” there are at least two-hundred eight fanfics featuring a good or somewhat good Peter Hale, but if you do the same for Kate, there are only two.
Once I noticed it, this double standard in hatred seemed to happen all the time. Fans, and even creators to some extent, seem to sympathize with the male characters to a greater degree, and the female characters seem to get disproportionally more shit for doing the exact same things as their male counterparts. I think this very much reflects issues with sexism that affect us in the real world—for example, how men in business who are assertive and take charge are viewed as amazing leaders, while women who do the same are viewed as “bossy” or “bitchy”. With Lois we have her failing to fulfill the woman are wiser trope by not knowing Clark is Superman, and she’s judged for this failure. In many TV sticoms the stereotype of the intelligent mom who bears the pains of her “idiot husband” patiently is not a thing of the past, but still a prevalent trope. Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense that Lois can’t figure out who Superman is, but it also doesn’t make sense for any of the male characters to be equally as clueless, so expecting her to be smarter than everyone else holds her to unnecessarily higher standards. And Kate and Peter are both equally evil, but Kate gets far more shit for it. This might be because we also hold women to higher standards of morality as well. Our society seems to expect men to be violent and aggressive, but women are expected to be pure and innocent. So seeing a female character who is just as evil as a male character seems to cause much more outrage.
We see this same issue in our media. Women’s flaws are demeaned and viewed as stupid or treacherous whereas male characters’ flaws are ignored or even glorified as something good. We need female characters to be just as complex and flawed as male characters, but if fans and even writers to some extent constantly give female characters shit for being as flawed as male characters, then chances are we’ll start seeing more bland stereotyped female characters and far less of these flawed, nuanced characters.